Practice

Haystack Rock, photo by John Norvell

Haystack Rock, photo by John Norvell

To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one’s self….
Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom
— Kierkegaard

Growing up, I believed everything about me was wrong. I was damaged, broken, unloveable, beyond repair.

We believe the stories we tell ourselves.

When I got my first tenure-track professorship, I decided to stop working during the summers, so I could devote myself to educating my babies. Together, we read thousands of books, constructed tents and forts, planted a garden, mortar and pestled basil into pesto, baked sticky buns, kneaded play-dough from flour and salt.

As they grew and their worlds expanded beyond me, I ferried them to various group enrichment activities, where they learned from peers, and from professionals who excelled in areas in which I had no expertise.

Sometimes they became good at the things they tried, but mostly they didn’t. When they got discouraged, I would tell them it’s crucial to do things we aren’t good at, that failing teaches us something valuable about ourselves.

When we fail, we learn where our edges are. So when we fall, we know how to get back up again.

As my children became more invested in activities outside the home, I committed to a summer practice of formally learning a skill in an area in which I had no talent. It was stressful and humbling to listen to an instructor explain something that appeared accessible to everyone else in the room, but made no inherent sense to me.

At the end of each summer, I would re-enter academia with a slightly different perspective. I remembered what it was like to be a beginner, and to feel inadequate. I became more comfortable with the students’ failures, and with my own.

There were infinite things I wasn’t good at.

I committed to kick-boxing, pole-dancing, yoga, aerial-dance. I backpacked, got my motorcycle license, completed a triathlon.

Most of the time, I was barely tolerable at whatever I took on. But I finished every course of study I started, no matter how poorly I performed.

I called it my humbling practice.

Occasionally, I would discover flow in an activity, and would incorporate the practice into my wider life.

I continued my yoga practice, both on and off the mat. And eventually, I learned to embrace the space between who I think I am and who I want to be.

My whole life, people have told me I work too much, that I need to slow down, rest more, enjoy the view.

But that narrative no longer serves me.

Because there is no view more enjoyable to me than one I have struggled to find.

So I continue to do hard things.  And I continue to fail.

But I am resilient. And good at breaking.

There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

There’s nothing shameful about failing. To feel damaged, broken and flawed is part of the human condition.

That’s just the beginning of the story.



Michelle Dowd